Ken-ichi's Reviews > Daniel Deronda

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
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's review
Jun 21, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: snoot, classics
Read from April 15 to June 06, 2011 — I own a copy

** spoiler alert ** My sister wrote her senior thesis on this book, so I figured if I was going to stand half a chance at understanding but a quarter of that thesis, I would have to read it. Still haven’t gotten to the thesis (80 pages Ak?! C’mon!), but I did finally polish off the book, and am not sorry that I did. Much like Middlemarch this book is packed with long, intricate, sometimes movingly ornate, oftentimes completely hilarious (and not in a self-conscious way), frequently ultranerdy sentences that somehow seem even more absurdly arcane/wonderful than other 19th century Brits. If Austen fired a word pistol, Elliot preferred the lexical two-decker broadside.

As with Middlemarch, Patrick O’Brian and Jane Austen did not prepare me to fully interpret a book of Deronda’s sweep and complexity, so my only real point of reference is Middlemarch itself. Like the characters in that book, most of the protagonists in Deronda struggle with deliberately crafting their own lives, but unlike the focus on vocation in Middlemarch, these characters seemed more concerned with morality. Deronda himself wasn’t seeking a job so much as a crusade, and Gwen spent almost the entire book watching her ego eroded by both circumstance and her husband only to find she barely even knew what good meant if it couldn’t mean pleasing herself. I suspect the fact that many of the protagonists had lost parents plays into this somehow, perhaps severing them from strong religious and cultural norms and forcing the characters to question and then assert moral positions. The Meyricks, the Gascoignes, Grandcourt, and perhaps Sir Hugo rarely seemed to question their own codes, whereas Gwen and Dan were constantly revisiting them. I guess that falls a part a bit with Mordecai and Mirah, but perhaps we just met Mordecai long after he’d settled many of these internal debates (he certainly had a code, albeit a long-winded possibly delusional one).

Ultimately I found Gwen to be the most interesting and appealing character, mostly because I’m a traditionalist and I like it when characters change in profound but believable ways (yes, Ak, I’m am looking forward to reading about how narrative is just a myth Elliot was trying to lay bare with this book, or something, right?), and Gwen went from back-of-the-hand-cackling-anime-villainess to having her will entirely crushed. She was the only appealing character with any wit in the book (I wasn’t a fan of Hans, and Daniel’s mom, while awesome, was really just a guest star). Actually, part of the tragedy for me was seeing that verve brought down not just by Grandcourt’s weird dominance, but also by her submission to Deronda’s moral authority. Gwen’s smart, willful, and clearly possesses the kernel of morality in her love for her mother. Why can’t she figure this shit out herself?!

I found Deronda himself a bit boring. He was always good and always right. Dull. Keeping with the anime theme, he was just sad Pikachu, all the time. The way his constant deliberation always seemed to border on passivity bugged me too. His public attitude was more like Grandcourt's than anyone else’s, even though his inaction was usually due to deliberation rather than indifference.

Anyway, long but good, glad I read it. Bring on the thesis.

Oh, and you know there were words:

prebendary (n): a stipend given to a clergyman from the revenues of a church or cathedral. (p. 33)
fidus Achates: in the Aeneid, Achates was Aeneus's bff. (p. 37)
euphonious (adj): sounding good. (p. 43)
spoony (adj): foolish, silly, particularly when in love. It always drove me nuts that this was in the Scrabble dictionary, but I guess it does have meaning beyond "of or pertaining to a spoon" (p. 58)
antigropelos (n): waterproof leggings for riding or walking, aka spatterdashes. (p. 70)
burthen (n): archaic form of burden, which is pretty obvious, but I don't recall this word coming up so much with other 19th century authors. (p 90 and just about every other page in the book)
monody (n):: a solo lament. (p. 90)

"It was impossible to be jealous of Juliet Fenn, a girl as middling as mid-day market in everything but her archery and her plainness, in which last she was noticeably like her father: underhung and with receding brow resembling that of the more intelligent fishes."

Amazing how cruel and bigoted she could be. Ak tells me she believed in physiognomy. (p. 121)

uncial (n): a form of all-caps (or majuscule) script that is very rounded. Now, what exactly Elliot meant by handwriting "of the delicate kind which used to be esteemed feminine before the present uncial period" I have no idea. Did people write in all-caps all the time in her day?

perrugue (n): alt. form of peruke, which is a man's wig from the 17th and 18th centuries. (p. 179)

"...impaling the three Saracens' heads proper and three bezants of the one with the tower and falcons argent of the other..." Only now that I am looking things up do I realize she was talking about heraldry. Behold, a Saracen's head, bezants, and falcons argent. I was very, very disappointed to learn that Saracens bear no relation to the genus of carnivorous pitcher plants, Sarracenia, which were apparently named after an 18th century botanist named Michel Sarrazin. How does that even work?! (p. 180)

"But for God's sake, keep an English cut, and don't become indifferent to bad tobacco!" Sir Hugo Mallinger's advice to Danny Boy on learning that the latter wishes to go abroad. Another winning epitaph. I'm gonna need, like, 30 graves when I die. (p. 200)

"I could not bear memories any more: I could only feel what was present in me – it was all one longing to cease from my weary life, which seemed only a pain outside the great peace that I might enter into." I found this conclusion to Mirah's autobiography somewhat remarkable for the extent dedicated to her thoughts of suicide. Granted I haven't read that broadly, but I don't recall many 19th century brits dwelling on suicide too much, particularly in protagonists. (p. 241)

"The self-delight with which she had kissed her image in the glass had faded before the sense of futility in being anything whatever – charming, clever, resolute – what was the good of it all?" And in addition to suicide, we have all this depression, not just sadness but an acute sensation of pointlessness. (p. 248)

"Outsiders might have been more apt to think..." This paragraph is just hilarious: essentially about the triumph of personality over physicality, it just descends into this pedantic mess about the Odyssey, which she concludes by admitting that the Odyssey was just a terrible analogy. Oh George Elliot. This whole chapter is just amusing for being the only traditionally romantic passage in the entire book ("I am afraid of nothing but that we should miss the passing of our lives together." Queue the Tchaikovsky). Kind of like she was saying, "Look, I will give you guys one happy romance. One. Ok? But it will only last a single chapter. A short chapter. And I am going to talk about the Odyssey." (p. 259)

chignon (n): style of hair where the hair is tied in a knot or bun at the back of the head or the nape of the neck. Never knew this had a name. Definitely better than "cockernonnie" and "cock-up." (p. 358)

rinderpest (n): viral disease affecting cattle. (p. 360)

"...that mania of always describing one thing while you were looking at another..." My God I hate this, and I am always catching myself about to do it, particularly while eating. The only motivations I can think of are to belittle the present meal, thereby making everyone consider it inferior, or boast about your own taste, both of which seem horrible. (p. 461)

cynosure (n): something that attracts attention. Constantly forgetting this word. (p. 487)

"What sort of earth or heaven would hold any spiritual wealth in it for souls pauperized by inaction?" It seems ridiculous that Deronda would deliver this line, as he is almost entirely inert for half of the book. (p. 499)

persiflage (n): banter (p. 512)

caliginous (adj): misty, dark. (p. 512)

Melusina: a figure in Celtic and northern European legend, beautiful woman above the waist, serpent below, but apparently only on Saturdays. (p. 689)

murrain (n): another infectious cattle disease. (p. 707)

Supralapsarian (n): honestly even after reading the Wikipedia article I have no idea what this really means, and Hans' joke is sadly lost on me. Absurd doctrinal stances like this just make me think of Life of Brian. (p. 712)
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Reading Progress

04/15 page 26
3.0% "So far so good."
04/16 page 30
3.0% ""having taken orders and a diphthong" haha"
04/18 page 88
9.0% "Enjoying so far. Elliot was such a nerd."
04/25 page 221
24.0% "I get the Gwen/Deronda dualism, Elliot, but what of it?! The scene with Mirah was cool, though. Glad I've entered the Jewish subculture bit."
04/27 page 272
29.0% "I like how the most romantic romance of the book so far is just this one tiny chapter, like Elliot is throwing a bone to the romance readers, adding, "But I'm STILL throwing in some Homeric analogies and commentary about class hypocrisy. Put THAT in your brain and think on it.""
05/05 page 410
44.0% "Deronda's similarities to Grandcourt (noncommital, unfocused) are irritating, but I guess they return to this theme of untapped potential Elliot seems to be interested in. Still likin' the Mirah bits, also Gwen's peculiar little conscience."
05/23 page 549
59.0% "Mordecai is weird. So is Deronda though, I guess."
05/24 page 570
61.0% "Frankly I found myself glazing over Mordecai's rantings, but it's interesting that while Deronda seems obsessed with whether or not Mordecai's apparent insanity is reason to disengage, he does *not* seem interested in the substance of those rantings." 2 comments
05/31 page 656
71.0% "I hope Grandcourt gets hit by a train in the end." 1 comment
06/02 page 728
78.0% "Getting into page-turner mode, which is unfortunate b/c I don't want to take this on the plane if I only have 100 pages left!"
02/29 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Eliszard (new)

Eliszard A lexical two-decker broadside?! I obviously need to get reading Eliot asap!

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